One of the major themes of the novel is the difficulty of soldiers to revert to civilian life after having experienced extreme combat situations. This internal destruction can be found as early as the first chapter as Paul comments that, although all the boys are young, their youth has left them. In addition, the massive loss of life and negligible gains from the fighting are constantly emphasized. Soldiers' lives are thrown away by their commanding officers who are stationed comfortably away from the front, ignorant of the daily terrors of the front line.
Another major theme is the concept of blind nationalism. Remarque often emphasizes the boys in the story were not forced to join the war effort against their will but rather a sense of patriotism and pride. Kantorek called Paul's platoon the "Iron Youth", helping the boys imagine a romanticized version of warfare with glory and duty to the Fatherland. Only later did they realize the true horror of war as they engaged in fierce trench warfare.